I am a big fan of the English language. As a result I pay a lot of attention to what advertisers say – and even more important, how they say it. I am a wonderful spin doctor – but I’d be hard pressed to match their creative use (and abuse!) of the English language. With that said, here we go:
- “Not available anywhere!” – if that’s true – where’d they get it from?
- “New and Improved!” – New and improved over what? If it was your previous version- are you saying your last product was a piece of crap?
- “Cleans better.” – Better than . . . ??? In some commercials the disclaimer (if there is one) says: ‘compared to plain water’.
- “If you are one of those persons who believes they sweat more than normal . . .” – notice they said IF you are one of those persons who believes he or she sweats more than normal. You might not sweat all all. You just think you do. It doesn’t take any product to change that.
- “A (insert number) value!” (insert number) is what they wish they could sell it to you for. By the way: I have some pocket lint. It’s a forty dollar value – but I’ll let you have it for ten. Plus shipping and handling, of course!
- From a Lysol ad: “Clean everything in your home . . .” Really? My teeth? The dog? And maybe it will – but would I want it to?
- “Great!” “Incredible!” “Fantastic!” These are all subjective ‘opinion’ words. They mean nothing in my book. Let me be the judge of what is ‘great’, ‘incredible’, ‘fantastic’ – or rather the mundane, boring, and commonplace.
- I noticed on Nickelodeon’s gender general programs: first they advertise a ‘girl’ toy, then a ‘boy’ toy, the a ‘girl’ toy ad infinitum. Unless it’s a boy or girl orientated show, in which case they pitch their products accordingly.
- “You can’t live without it!” Oh yes I can. The fact that I’m still here is proof of it.
- “Switch to (name of insurance company) – and save! Drivers/owners who switched saved an average of (fill in the amount) dollars!” No duh. After all: who’s gonna switch if it costs them more? Nobody! A real no-brainer there.
- Aciphex. Who in the hell gave an antiacid a name like that? Go ahead and pronounce it: “Ass-effects”. There – you see? I can imagine it – there was someone in marketing like me. They were sitting a conference table sweating bullets trying to come up with a name and some smart ass (like me) steps up and says: “Ass Effects”. Only I write it down ‘Aciphex’. Can you imagine the sniggers and laughs down on the production floor and loading docks? And who’s gonna want to go to the pharmacist and say: “Hey! I need some Aciphex!”. I’m just gonna tell you to eat more beans.
- “Made with real ingredients.” What else are you going to make them with? Imaginary ingredients?
- “All natural!” So is hemlock, hurricanes, and poison ivy. That doesn’t mean I want them in my coffee today.
- “Virtually anything – “. Okay – this is NOT a virtual world. It is a real one. I need one that will clean, fix, replace or repair real things, not virtual ones.
- “Better than you can imagine!” I imagine not, seeing as I have a very good and active imagination. I used to get paid for the thing.
- “Order now and we’ll double your order! (just pay extra processing, shipping, and handling)”. What they are really saying it that one ain’t worth it, and two aren’t either. They are just hoping quantity – and your greed for it – will outweigh whatever common sense you have. (see that ‘can’t live without it’ thing again.)
- “Save!” Like I told one of my teenage daughters a long time ago: you can’t ‘save’ if you spend – otherwise I’d be a millionaire by now!
- “Top Rated!” Rated by who? You’re own people don’t count, you know.
- “Award for Promoting (product)” – these folks are hoping you don’t notice: the product didn’t win an award. They did: for convincing you suckers to buy it.
- “So exclusive we gave it to Red carpet models!” You mean it was so bad you couldn’t sell it and you’re having to resort to giving it away? Hoping someone will see one with it and think that it’s something good? (Never mind most of those models have their own makeup and stuff.) I dunno.
- “Free with purchase!” Well, if I have to purchase something to get it, it must not be free, huh.
- “Benefits too numerous to count!” No. You just hope no one else will bother counting them – and realizing how limited they are.
- “If you or someone you know have died, call this number . . .” Hey – if I’m dead, I’m not gonna be able to call. And I doubt cellphone service is gonna be available where I’m going.
- “Fun for the whole family!” Nothing is fun for the whole family. There’s always someone who’s gotta pay; someone who’s gonna complain . . .
- “Instantly!” No. Nothing is instant, everything takes some time. And I don’t care how fast you (or it) are or is.
- “Trouble free assembly!” If it needs assembled, then it isn’t trouble free.
- “Guaranteed to last a lifetime!” Who’s? Mine or yours? Or the company’s? And given the product – how long can I expect the company to last?
- “Good for the life of the product.” Yeah. I’ve actually seen that one.
- “Real food!” Okay – then what it it that I’ve been eating these past few years? Fake food?
- “With fresh ingredients!” Okay – I didn’t know you used stale.
- “With micro-ingredients! (or nano or something)”. Guess what, folks. Everything’s made from ‘micro ingredients’. We call them molecules and atoms.
- “Superior! Better! Faster! Cheaper!” – than what? I wanna see the data – and when you put it in small print, I assume it must be something you don’t want me to know; something that’s embarrassing to ya . . . Facts and data – that’s where I’m at. I don’t need a lot of ambiguous (not to mention questionable) adjectives put in my way instead.
And there are a million other little quips, little ways – little twists of the English language – all to get you (trick you) into buying something you didn’t need. A lot of them I get a laugh at – and then I get a bigger laugh at you, the public and consumer who actually falls for this thing; these little ‘twists’ and subtle meanings in the hidden language (and art!) of advertising a thing . . .
“Start over! Start afresh!” Sounds good until you realize I’ve come to bulldoze your house and property, doesn’t it?
Advertising is big business in business for businesses, and they go about it with a no-holds barred, anything goes mentality designed from your instincts up, using all the tools at their disposal. And trust me – those tools include everything they can think of, from psychological assessments to find every keyhole in your heart, to sociological targeting to make sure YOU, the consumer, are caught up in whatever they wish you to believe is the latest trend. Ads must pass panels of boards, tailored through surveys with groups of ‘customers’, tweaked and twisted until they are primed to catch your attention, change your thinking, and make you feel bad. They will try their best to convince you that what you have isn’t good enough, what you do is sub-standard, that you don’t meet social standards, or even your own. They will convince you that if YOU don’t buy their latest product, medicine, or idea, YOU are somehow being abusive – either to yourself, your children, your spouse, your significant others, or even your neighbor next door. The psychology of advertising relies in large part in making YOU insecure with what you have, what and who your are, and the ‘face’ you present to those around you, to make YOU feel somehow diminished, inferior, and not nearly as perfect or efficient as those people in the ads, using their products.
They will try to convince you that you need to use THEIR soaps, deodorants, tools, clothes, educational / financial services. That your car isn’t good enough; your house isn’t clean enough, the way you DO things or even think isn’t up to par; that your body stinks, your teeth are yellow, your hair gray (or flat and frizzy, dry or oily or split and damaged), your armpits full of funk, your sex life lousy, your penis small. They will try to tell you your skin is wrinkled and dry (or sagging and oily) and that you can defy your age. They will convince you your choices in life are wrong (from the shows you watch to the store you shop at), that you are either too hairy, or not hairy enough – and no matter what you are buying or doing, if you buy it from THEM – your life will be miraculously better (brighter teeth! Fresh breath! And tada! A new romance!), your happiness improved (take THIS pill or THIS pill – and all your aches and reasons for depression will disappear – and never mind those nasty side effects. After all: what’s a little anal leakage among friends?), your troubles dissolved (like hair in depilatory cream). Smooth as a five bladed razor (with Comfort-glide!), you can buy your troubles away; soothe your senses (twenty-five styles of air freshener for your car, your house, your closet!), improve your tastes (OURS is better than THEIRS – just don’t read the label chock full of un-natural ingredients!), improve your mind (with this drug, or online college, or anything except plain old-fashioned study and reading), go faster, further, cheaper than ever before, while doing a thousand things a minute (tired? Try our energy drink!). Multitask, minitask, majortask, buy this, buy that – and your life will be better. Just buy our product and SEE (using your mail-order custom fit contacts, new glasses, or better vision through PRK).
Whatever you’ve bought before – THIS is OURS and it’s new and improved (over what? I ask.) Don’t dress your kids for school – dress them for FASHION. Don’t give them an education – buy them a computer instead. If you haven’t bought your kid TV, MP3 player, laptop with broadband access and a cellphone – you are mistreating them, depriving them of a ‘proper’ social outlet – never mind that none of these things involve interacting with REAL people. YOU must buy these things or else your kid is unequipped to live life to the fullest – while sitting in the living room.
Watch those ads carefully, and with a critical eye – a very critical eye. Remember that they are in the business of SELLING you something – whether you need it or not, and they will play every card to make that sale – from convincing you that you are not good enough, to convincing you that your life is not good enough – and that somehow, some way, their product will change that. And remember this: they are also trying to sell you the idea that somehow, some way, buying their product will make you happy, because you can’t possibly be happy now, having seen their product.
But the truth is, the only ‘product’ that can make you happy is yourself, and your own perceptions. Good can be good enough; the best can be what works, not the ‘newest’ thing. Life isn’t perfect, neither are you – but advertisers are in the business of trying to convince you otherwise – if you buy their product. And that, dear sir or madam, is just bull. You are human – they want you to be something other than human (full of artificial flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives!) – and that is simply not going to happen.
Be happy with what you have, what you are, and what you can be. It doesn’t take a product to do that for you. If you aren’t happy with who you are – then change your perceptions or your behaviors, not the things you own. No product can change who you are – that comes from inside of you. And if there is going to be anything ‘new and improved’ in your life, let it be YOU, from you, and your own perceptions – and not theirs.
And guess what? It doesn’t cost a dime.